What all prospective adoptive parrents should know
A Voice for the Children
Some twenty years ago, my husband and I began our journey of adoption. After filling out a mountain of paperwork which entailed every personal preference you can imagine, being fingerprinted, and having background checks done on us, we waited. And we waited. And we waited. After four years of waiting, we were edging toward forty and decided to start keeping foster children. We were required to take a course in foster parenting, which was immensely enlightening. It helped us see things from the child's perspective as well as from the biological parents' perspective. I have to say it changed my way of viewing the practice of foster parenting and adoption.
As good as the training was, though, it fell short in several ways. Shortly thereafter, we became foster parents to a twenty-two-month old daughter, whom we later adopted. A few years down the road we adopted a very troubled three-year-old with Attachment Disorder. We love them very much, but they were very difficult to raise. It might have been easier had we known some things to expect or be aware of.
By the way, most foster and adoptive children suffer from some degree of Attachment Disorder. Some symptoms may be relatively harmless, while others can be quite disturbing. One line of thought is that the child attaches himself to a faulty mother, one who neglected and abused him. He grows up unable to trust adults and considers himself to be the master of his own fate. This causes a level of defiance you would not believe. From the child's viewpoint, he is fighting for his life. He literally has to be retrained to trust that adults, his parents, know what's best for him. It required special bonding time with specific routines for my son and me.
Another line of research shows that neglect and abuse at a very early age prevents certain parts of the brain from developing properly, causing the child to be weak in using good judgment and to have difficulty obeying authority. Personally, I believe it's some of both of these, and maybe other reasons too. I know we had our fair share of it with our son. His mother abused drugs, and I'm sure that played a part in his difficulties.
Our son was a terror because of Attachment Disorder. He wore us out physically and emotionally. I received two black eyes from him by the time he was ten. With much help from a wonderful counselor who specialized in Attachment Disorder, a couple of stays in a psychiatric unit and a stay at a boy's home for a couple of months, along with hard work at home, we have a fine son now. He still has anger issues but is no longer physically threatening. (I might add that a lot of prayers went up too.) He's actually affectionate to me now, at age sixteen. Five years ago, I wouldn't have dreamed it possible.
My daughter had a milder form of Attachment Disorder. The defiance was still there. The lack of trust in adults was a part of it. She also suffered and still does suffer from the abandonment issues that adoptive parents must face with their adoptive children. It's there. It's real, and it's not going away, no matter how much you shower love and affection on the chld.
The first bit of advice I would offer is that all foster and adoptive children need counseling, and not just occasional sessions. While it was obvious with our troubled son, the signs for my daughter were much more subtle and didn't show themselves until puberty when she changed into someone I didn't recognize. There were drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, and defiance, to name a few.
We had just been through a nightmare with our son, and with much counseling, things were smoothing out for him. Then our daughter went berserk, and we were in turmoil again. We tried counseling, but at that time, we couldn't find a good counselor that seemed to make a difference. She put us through some rough times. She's in a much better frame of mind now. She's married and has given me a beautiful grandson. All is not roses, though. They are struggling to find jobs and still tend to live in a fantasy world.
I strongly believe that foster parenting and adoption are marvelous ways to give back to the community and save children's lives. The trick is to know ahead of time what might lie in store. If you think my case is a rarity, think again. These children come from nightmarish backgrounds, and don't think they come away from it without scars. The scars are there, whether they show or not.
And don't think you can make them live happily ever after either. That's not ever a given in any family, much less in foster and adoptive families. We do the best we can and hope for the best. I do, however, propose that we broaden the required parenting course to include these areas of concern. We need to emphasize to these prospective parents that rough times may lie ahead, but that it's worth it in the end. We need to give them resources for dealing with troubled children.
It is the State's, the social worker's, and our responsibility to enlighten prospective parents. If they are strong enough and have the resources to give these children what they need, then they should certainly adopt. Goodness knows, we need more good foster and adoptive parents! Just take the time and do your research before you make that decision. It will change the rest of your life forever, in good ways and not-so-good ways. You need to know about those ways and be prepared for them. Once you have the real facts, you are prepared to make an educated decision about foster parenting and adoption.
As a sideline, many of these adoptive placements are disrupted because parents weren't prepared for the hard work. That is a tragedy to everyone. The child is once again abandoned, and the parents feel like horrible people for giving up on the child. I don't judge them because I've been there. I know how difficult it can be.
While I would like to leave you with lots of resources to learn more, the truth is, that time in my life was very hectic. I did read a wonderful book that changed my way of thinking about my son. I wish I could think if its name. However, you can just Google Attachment Disorder, and you have a world of resources at your fingertips. Some ideas will be conflicting, just as any medical or science research is, but there is a lot of good information out there. You can start with this link. It's where I started. It's where I found the awesome therapist who saved us all.